In this article, you will learn what cane sugar is, what it is made from, and the forms in which it is traded.
You’ll also learn if cane sugar in all its forms is better than regular sugar, and get recommendations for healthy amounts and suggestions for replacing the cane sugar.
In short: You become an absolute sugar nerd. Ready?
Table of Contents
What is cane sugar?
Cane sugar is sugar made from sugar cane, which accounts for 70% of the world’s 2 billion tons of sugar produced each year. Cane sugar is produced in many variants (e.g. raw cane sugar or Mucovado) but usually does not differ in use from household sugar.
So much for the sweetness in a hurry. Now let’s go into a little more detail. Because cane sugar could even be on your shelf – you just don’t know it.
Cane sugar or sugar cane is processed into three major product types:
- Cane Sugar: Synonymous with white, refined table sugar (from sugar cane), most of the production and identical to table sugar from sugar beets.
- Raw cane sugar: A light-colored cane sugar that is only refined once to preserve the remainder of the brownish colour.
- Whole cane sugar: The pressed sugar cane juice is not refined, but only heated, dried and ground without the formation of sugar crystals.
But: In the trade there are other “fancy” names for cane sugar and other products that result from cane sugar production. This turns the actually simple product into an opaque sugar jungle:
- Brown cane sugar: Non-protected designation for raw cane sugar or whole cane sugar with a natural color or products colored by heated sugar.
- Muscovado cane sugar: Unprotected designation for raw cane sugar / whole cane sugar with a natural colour, which traditionally stood for a high molasses content and a dark brown colour.
- Unrefined cane sugar: synonym for whole cane sugar.
- Cane Sugar Syrup: Sugar syrup made from sugar cane juice or cane molasses and water.
- Cane sugar molasses: Plant substances rich in minerals, which are separated from the sugar crystals after the roughly cleaned sugar cane juice has been heated a second time.
Hopefully the sugar jungle has at least cleared up a bit. But what exactly is cane sugar? Is it healthier or better than “normal” granulated sugar? And how to replace it? In order to understand this, we have to take a quick look at sugar production.
What is cane sugar made from?
Cane sugar is made from sugar cane, a large sweet grass 3 to 6 m tall that grows in subtropical and tropical climates. The leading growing countries are Brazil, India and Thailand.
The strong stalk of the sweet grass (diameter 2 to 4.5 cm) contains a sugar content of 10 to 20% in its pith. To harvest, the stalks are cut off close to the ground with sugar cane harvesters or (still frequently) by hand and the sugar-free leaves are removed.
The sugar juice is then removed from this sugar cane in a hot press, most of which is then boiled down to crystallization and processed into cane sugar by refining.
What are the problems behind sugar production?
In preparation for the manual harvest, the sugar cane fields are often burned down at night, although environmental organizations and legislators in all growing countries are taking action against this environmental outrage.
The ash from the irritating weeds and the withered sugar cane leaves then covers entire areas of land instead of being used as biomass. The affected regions are z. In Thailand, for example, we are exposed to harmful particulate matter pollution that far exceeds the limit values.
Various Fairtrade cane sugar initiatives are working to combat the often problematic working conditions associated with manual harvesting (child labour, ridiculously low pay of just a few euros per day).
Which is healthier: cane sugar or white sugar?
Cane sugar is more or less like white sugar, depending on the type of cane sugar:
1. Regular white cane sugar vs. white (household) sugar
Regular cane sugar (which is not specifically labeled as raw cane sugar or whole cane sugar) is no different from white sugar. Like beet sugar, it is processed into pure, white (household) sugar in a multi-stage refining process.
This refining separates out all the components except for the actual sugar. As a result, there is no longer a perceptible difference between white sugar from sugar beets or sugar cane.
The special feature of this crystallized, snow-white refined sugar (chemical: sucrose) is its high purity. According to the Sugar Types Ordinance , it consists of at least 99.7% sucrose and a maximum of 0.04% invert sugar caused by production; the remaining residual moisture of 0.26% may not be reduced by more than 0.06% during drying.
This makes sugar a very well defined food in which every chemical element/molecule except sucrose (C12H22O11) and residual moisture (H2O) is an impurity.
Today’s refining technology is geared towards extracting sucrose from sugar cane and sugar beet, because both plants have been cultivated from around 8% sucrose to 18-20% sucrose and there are established trade routes for the plant residues/production by-products (up to 84%).
With our domestic sugar beets, I also got an idea of this in the raw food sector. The result: sugar beets can be eaten raw. Taste but only conditionally.
The end product of refining is called sucrose here or, on consumer packaging, sugar (white sugar, white sugar, refined sugar, refined sugar), no matter what plant it was extracted from.
The manufacturer can use colloquial terms or designations that indicate the origin, such as granulated sugar, table sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar.
Interim conclusion: White cane sugar is table sugar. Due to the standardized product regulations, there are no chemical or taste differences.
However, the situation is different for the other types of cane sugar.
2. Raw cane sugar and whole cane sugar vs. white sugar
Raw cane sugar and whole cane sugar contain residues of cane sugar molasses, which provide the natural brown colour.
These plant residues also contain vitamins and minerals; in other words, substances that people have to ingest with food in order to remain healthy.
It is therefore not wrong to describe this sugar as healthier than white sugar. Even if you should look at this “healthier” very critically.
How much of these plant residues must be included is not defined, the contents vary depending on the manufacturing process. You can find an overview here.
The legislator has also not bothered to define or determine these residues, because the regulations on nutritional value labeling issued to quickly record the health value of a food provide clear rules here:
Vitamin and mineral levels may only be included in the nutrition labeling table if the product contains significant amounts of vitamins and/or minerals.
Significant amounts means: A solid food contains at least 15% of the NRV set by the EU legislator, a drink contains at least 7.5% of the respective NRV (regulated in Annex XIII of the EU Food Information Regulation).
The NRV (Nutrient Reference Value) specifies the amount of a vitamin/mineral that a healthy adult must take daily according to generally accepted recommendations in order not to develop any deficiency symptoms.
If this minimum amount is reached, the vitamins or minerals must also state how many percentages of the recommended daily vitamin or mineral requirement 100 g (for drinks: 100 ml) cover. If portion sizes are specified on the pack, the percentages of the daily requirement must also be specified for these.
This sugar is only nutritionally healthier than white sugar if the nutritional value labeling of raw cane sugar or whole cane sugar contains information on vitamins and/or minerals.
You can find the nutritional label on every sales package, so you can see for yourself whether the product is nutritionally classified as sugar or sugar with significant nutritional value.
Interim conclusion: On paper, raw cane sugar and whole cane sugar are better alternatives to cane sugar and white sugar. But so marginal that the difference is limited. However, the unrefined sugar tastes different due to the minerals and vitamins it contains and gives your dishes a slightly caramel sweetness.
What is better or healthier about cane sugar?
Normal cane sugar is not better/healthier than white (household) sugar, but white sugar itself (sucrose in the sense of the Sugar Types Ordinance).
This sugar is not healthy because it only contains energy (calories) and no nutrients: 405 kcal per 100 g; 1% of the daily requirement of vitamins B1, B2, C and the minerals fluoride, manganese, zinc; 2% of the daily requirement of the minerals chloride, potassium; 3% of the daily requirement of phosphorus; 4% of the daily requirement of magnesium, copper; 6% of the daily requirement of calcium.
The sugar thus contains traces of 3 vitamins and 9 minerals, which are irrelevant compared to the energy content. Of the rest of the 34 nutrients that you need to supply your body with (daily) to survive, sugar contains none at all.
Food data from all over Germany is collected there – and the secured data on “sugar brown raw sugar” looks very similar to that described above for sugar, because raw cane sugar or whole cane sugar has never been tested there where consistently higher nutritional values could be guaranteed.
If only sugar content appears on the nutrition label of a raw or whole cane sugar (as is usual), it does not contain significant amounts of vitamins and minerals and contributes just as little to a healthy diet as sugar.
Because these significant amounts (15% daily nutrient requirement in food and 7.5% in drinks) were not chosen at random, but were determined as the result of many scientific evaluations.
If a person without any knowledge of healthy eating buys various foods and drinks with this minimum content of nutrients, there is a high probability that the mixture will bring him an adequate supply of nutrients.
If this person buys food and drinks that do not even have this minimum nutrient content, this has the following effects:
- With every consumption, the chances of sufficient nutrient supply decrease
- Food without nutrients does not fill you up because the body wants to be supplied
- A high proportion of “empty” calories inevitably leads to obesity
In addition, the WHO recommends, with good reason, a very moderate sugar consumption of no more than 5% of the energy from concentrated, additional sugar (at 2000 calories, this corresponds to 100 sugar calories = 25 g of sugar with 4 calories per gram).
The German Society for Nutrition (still) recommends 10 energy percent = 50 g sugar, which of these recommendations you follow is your health responsibility.
You can read the background to this recommendation e.g. B. read here. The consequences can be seen e.g. For example, the fact that currently every 11th adult in the world suffers from diabetes and every 13th adult with impaired glucose tolerance is on the way to it ( diabetesatlas.org ).
So much for white granulated sugar. But how does cane sugar compare to brown sugar? Is the situation different here?
Which is better: cane sugar or brown sugar?
The term “brown sugar” is not legally defined. This can be raw cane sugar, whole cane sugar, whole beet sugar or cane sugar / beet sugar that has been colored with caramelized sugar, sugar syrup, sugar cane syrup.
In the context of a healthy diet, it doesn’t really matter: if there’s no vitamin and/or mineral information on the nutrition label, then all of those sugars don’t contain significant amounts of the nutrients and fall into the “unhealthy diet” category.
It doesn’t matter for the taste, because both coloring with traces of molasses, sugar cane syrup and coloring with caramelized sugar, sugar syrup create a light caramel taste.
So on through the sugar shelf. Because agave syrup in particular is repeatedly touted as a healthy alternative to sugar. But there is a “but” – and a very big one at that.
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Which is healthier: cane sugar or agave syrup?
Agave syrup is agave syrup made from the sugary juice of various species of Mexican agave. A look at the sugar content shown on the nutritional label reveals whether this agave syrup is healthier than cane sugar because it contains less sugar.
Nutrition experts and physicians consider the sugar in agave syrup to be even more problematic than cane sugar because it contains 70-75% fructose (normal cane sugar, beet sugar = sucrose is a glucose-fructose compound, so it consists of only half fructose).
Fructose is suspected of promoting weight gain, fatty liver formation, the development of gout and high blood pressure even more than glucose. The only advantage is a higher sweetening power than sugar, so you may be able to save some sweetness with agave syrup.
And that ends the digression on the sugar shelf back here in Germany. At the good old sugar beet. Because it actually looks much better than the agave.
Which is better: cane sugar or beet sugar?
There are no nutritional differences between refined cane sugar and beet sugar as both are refined into the same product called table sugar (sucrose).
In terms of the ecological balance, local organic beet sugar is around 35% better than organic Fairtrade cane sugar because there is no environmental pollution from long transport and the sugar can be extracted from sugar beet more efficiently (11.4 tons of sugar cane are needed for one ton of sugar, but only 6.6 tons of sugar beets are grown).
In addition, sugar cane consumes a lot of water during growth and, depending on the sugar content and degree of ripeness, can be harvested for the first time after 9 and sometimes only 24 months after planting. Sugar beets are ready for harvest after 6 to 8 months at the latest.
There is also no difference between whole cane sugar and whole beet sugar in terms of healthy nutrition, because the 2-2.5% minerals from the molasses are nutritionally irrelevant in both cases.
You would have to judge for yourself whether the remains of sugar cane molasses in whole cane sugar or sugar beet molasses in whole beet sugar lead to taste differences in whole cane sugar / whole beet sugar. However, whole beet sugar is so popular as an inexpensive ingredient in food production that it is only rarely sold in retail outlets.
This is a pity because whole beet sugar is/would definitely be better in terms of ecology and sustainability than whole cane sugar, which has to be imported from the sugar cane-growing countries, because it is produced in Germany and the shorter transport routes.
Let’s now summarize everything essential from the article.
What is the difference between cane sugar and other types of sugar?
As you have learned throughout the article, there is either no difference between cane sugar and other types of sugar, or cane sugar contains 2-2.5% more minerals – negligible amounts that do not make it any healthier than other sugars.
To summarize all the findings of the article in a nutshell, here is the big sugar comparison:
Difference between cane sugar and brown sugar
Brown sugar can be colored cane sugar, colored beet sugar or raw or whole cane sugar with a few minerals.
Difference cane sugar & whole cane sugar
Normal cane sugar is white table sugar, whole cane sugar contains undefined, small amounts of minerals
Difference cane sugar & candy
sugar Cane sugar consists of crystallized sugar grains, for candy sugar the sugar crystals are enlarged by crystallizing out in concentrated sugar solutions.
Difference cane sugar & normal granulated sugar Normal cane sugar is granulated sugar (white sugar), raw and whole cane sugar contain an insignificant 2-2.5% more minerals.
Difference cane sugar & raw
cane sugar Normal cane sugar is normal white household sugar, raw cane sugar contains undefined, small amounts of minerals
Difference cane sugar & beet
sugar Cane sugar from sugar cane makes up 70% of the annual sugar production of around 2 billion tons, beet sugar from sugar beets the rest.
In the end, the legitimate question remains: What is cane sugar actually good for? When should you use it?
What is cane sugar good for?
Normal cane sugar is normal white table sugar that is used exactly like this.
Raw cane sugar and whole cane sugar contain small amounts of molasses residues, which give the sugar a light caramel note. Many people appreciate this taste in coffee and tea, rice pudding and various types of dark pastries – just try it, maybe as a spice accent for carrots, pumpkin soups and similar full-bodied vegetable dishes.
How can you replace cane sugar?
Simple cane sugar is normal table sugar, which you cannot replace 1:1 with foods with less sugar when baking, because sugar is also important for the consistency of the baked goods.
You can of course replace it with raw and whole cane sugar here, because the low mineral content is only noticeable as a nuance in taste. Or you’re looking for baking recipes that replace sugar with less sweet, natural ingredients like fruit, the fiber inulin, or the sugar alcohols erythritol/xylitol.
Outside of baking, cane sugar can usually be substituted uncritically with these substances: Fruits with the right taste for quark dishes, desserts, sweet and savory dishes; Inulin brings creaminess with half the calories, erythritol and xylitol can often replace sugar completely or at least in part in a highly calorie-saving manner.
With all other extracts that are advertised as a sugar substitute, a look at the nutritional value label always helps to track down the true sugar content.
Conclusion: What is cane sugar – and what is it good for?
Cane sugar is sugar and, like any sugar, a popular ingredient for a “sweet life” – if you keep sugar consumption in healthy proportions.